Lady Busters' Sharp takes job at Southern Miss
By ADAM HOLT
The Garden City Community College women's basketball program just finished one of the best two-year stretches in its history under head coach Alaura Sharp. Making that a three-year stretch will be someone else's job, though.
The school announced Thursday that Sharp is leaving to take an assistant coaching position at the Division I University of Southern Mississippi under head coach Joye Lee-McNelis.
"I think it's a great opportunity for me," Sharp said in a Thursday telephone interview. "Coach McNelis is a really great lady, and does a great job. I felt like she's someone I can learn from. I have wanted to move up to the next level, and feel like it's a great professional move for me. I'm excited to be part of a program with awesome tradition."
Sharp spent four years as head coach at Garden City, and leaves with the highest winning percentage in program history at .643, going 83-46, including 42-22 in Jayhawk West play.
"Definitely has been a very bright spot for Garden City Community College, and definitely somebody that has brought a lot of excitement, and somebody that we wish the best for," GCCC athletic director Ryan Ruda said in a telephone interview. "I think anytime you can have a coach move on to the next level, and reach what her next dreams and aspirations are, is something to be pretty proud of."
Sharp was put in touch with Lee-McNelis through a mutual contact a few weeks ago, and interviewed for the position on Monday. She handed in her resignation at GCCC on Wednesday after being offered and accepting the job.
Sharp said she was looking for an opportunity to move up in coaching, and had offers after the 2012 season but elected to stay in Garden City. When Lee-McNelis and Southern Miss came calling, Sharp said it was just "a really good fit."
"I think that a lot of people advise you after you've had a good season, they advise you to definitely look into some situations and positions," she said. "Which I've done. But I was definitely selective in what it would take to get me to leave Garden City. I've enjoyed it enough here that I've passed on some opportunities, to try and wait for exactly what I wanted."
Sharp will also serve as recruiting coordinator for the Lady Eagles.
"I feel that I can put a strong emphasis and focus on recruiting, which has always been my passion," she said. "I enjoy that the relationships are made in the meantime of recruiting, and I feel like it's my strength as a person and as a coach, to build that network and those relationships. I think it's a good fit for me. It will be an adjustment taking a step back into an assistant coach role."
Southern Miss is an NCAA Division I program that competes in Conference USA. Located in Hattiesburg, Miss., notable former Golden Eagles include NFL star Brett Favre and college hall of fame punter Ray Guy.
The Lady Broncbusters are coming off a record setting season where they went undefeated at home — including an upset of then No. 1-ranked Hutchinson — and set a record for most regular season wins at 27. Garden City also made it to the Region VI semifinals for a second straight year, finishing 29-4.
"I feel like we've met a lot of our goals here at Garden City," Sharp said. "Even though we never won a conference championship, we were able to set a lot of records and get the program some national recognition that I'm proud of."
Ruda said the department would like to have a replacement in before the summer, similar to the situation with the volleyball coaching vacancy that was created last week with the resignation of Rob Lutz. The basketball position was opened today. It will be an open hiring process, although Ruda said he hopes assistants Whitney Corley and Nick Salazar will choose to apply.
"I think we've got two high level assistants that have a lot of experience, and have definitely been an extremely big component of the success of the women's basketball program," Ruda said. "I think you've got two very qualified individuals, and we're hoping both apply as well."
Sharp said she's thankful to the people who hired her, including former president Carol Ballantyne and former athletic director Bob Larson, as well as the current administration.
Prior to taking the job at Garden City, Sharp spent one season as head coach at Lamar Community College (Colo.). The Fredonia native played at Fort Scott Community College, then Southwest Minnesota State. After graduating from Southwest Minnesota State, she earned her master's at Adams State University (Colo.).
Sharp will finish the month working here at Garden City, with June 1 her official start date at Southern Miss.